August again produced two encounters with the first one being on the 19th when we had just arrived back from a Whalewatch Explorer at 1630 in Tobermory and as we were getting Sula Beag ready for the next trip we noticed an animal surface roll at the entrance to the harbour so we continued to watch on as a couple of bottlenose dolphins surfaced again showing that large back, tall dorsal fin and fine spray as they exhale. The animals continued to work their way into the harbour as we watched from Sula Beag alongside the pontoon and a growing audience observing from the shore. The animals stayed in the vicinity and we managed to see them for the evenings Ecocruz and enjoyed spectacular views along with capturing some photo ID shots of individuals.
|Bottlenose dolphin close surface|
On the 26th August another special encounter for this season occurred when Sula Beag was surrounded by a superpod of over a thousand dolphins! Dolphin splash could be seen panning from one horizon to the other making the sea state look choppy on a windless day. An abundance of behaviour was observed which included splinter pods driving at the surface chasing shoals of fish. Other groups were performing strong interactions which included bow riding, wake riding and social connections when we drifted with the engines off. If all aboard did not already know it was a special encounter at the time they did when skipper James announced it was easily the largest number of dolphins he had observed in a lifetime of covering Hebridean waters!
|Common dolphins associating with the underwater camara. Photo courtesy of James Fairbairns|
The other minke whale seen in September was identifiable through sound and the distinct noise it made when it surfaced. The animal was nicknamed 'Horse' due to the relating sound and you can watch a video here. We had two sightings of the animal in the space of three days with the first record off the island of Coll's coastline before being recorded five miles to the east off Ardnamurchan peninsula! Skipper James said that it is the first whale he has known in these waters to be identified by the distinct sound of its surface blow.
We also managed some strong photo records of the minkes dorsal fin and back which was less unique in features compared to the other whale recorded.
|Minke whale with the white spot in its trailing edge of its dorsal fin|
|Minke whale close surface roll|
Ocean sunfish are the largest bony fish in the world and grow from a larva stage of 2.5mm to up to three metres! That is the equivalent of a human baby growing to the size of three Titanic vessels! They also produce around three million eggs a season!
Of course we can not forget the engineers of all marine life in the ocean, the plankton! Samples were very abundant throughout September with a large variation of zoo plankton collected on a daily basis. Some of the species were copepods, arrow worms, cladocera, crab larva, lobster larva, starfish larva, jellyfish larva, segmented worms, bristle worms and phtoplankon including diatoms and dinoflagellates. The on-board microscope aims to enthuse and inspire guests about the facinating microscopic world.
|Copepod under the microscope, thanks to Andy Tait for the photo.|
|A sad and happy occasion, photo by Rona Mcann|